Today is the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the day on which Church recalls a great victory of faith. Many of us today take for granted the beautiful icons that are in our Churches, but it was not always taken for granted. For some people, even today, icons are a form of idol worship and must be destroyed. For more than one hundred years the Church was in conflict about the benefit and need for holy icons. Today is a celebration of the end of that conflict.
Here is a very short summary of what we believe about holy icons. First, in their essence holy icons reaffirm our belief in the incarnation of the Son of God. Prior to Jesus Christ, no man had ever seen God, but that all changed about two thousand years ago. Since Jesus Christ was/is real, we are able to depict Him in images, but we can only depict the Son of God as we have not seen the Father or the Holy Spirit. Second, icons of the Saints are present as a reminder of the presence of God’s grace in their particular life, through miracles, martyrdom etc. To remind of this truth about icons, we are taught by the Church that we should not venerate icons when Holy Communion is being administered to the people. Since God is present in the Holy Chalice, it makes no sense kissing a icon of Him. It would be like kissing a picture of your mother instead of her actual face.
On a day when the Church celebrates a fundamental truth about God (what we call a Doctrine) it is always good to be reminded about what we believe, but it should never end with mere belief. Our belief must always affect the way we live. We have icons because they remind us that Jesus Christ is real. Do we live as if we believe He is real, or do we live as Christians in name only?
If we truly believe that Jesus Christ is real, I pray our Great Lenten Journey will be affected. I pray we can look at each other as God looks at us. I pray we can learn to love to live the truth we proclaim in the first place. God became human so that humans could be be joined to Him and live in true union with Him.
What does Great Lent have to do with all this? It’s all very simple. The Orthodox Christian way of life of prayer, fasting, taking care of the poor, reading Holy Scriptures, tithing to the Church, participating regularly and often in the sacramental life of the Church, etc. are all tools to help adjust our otherwise earthly focused life, to become heavenly focused. All these tools are intensified during Great Lent somewhat like a trip to the fitness center intensifies our physical exercise. Every now and then we need a boost!